week1 - Vita Markman Syntax 322 Week 1 Introducing The...

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1 Vita Markman 9/5/07 Syntax – 322 Week 1: Introducing… The Miracle of Syntax! 1. Introduction 1.1 What do we study when we study syntax? A simplified definition of syntax would say: syntax is a level of linguistic structure that mediates between meanings and sounds At a more detailed, deep level, we would say: The syntax of a language tells us how to generate an infinite number of new sentences from a finite set of words (lexical items) Syntax – the study of the hierarchical structure of sentences in the human language – aims to answer the question what do we know when we know that a particular sentence is grammatical or ill-formed in our language? How are we able to understand and generate an infinite number of new sentences Syntax studies the rules that underlie sentence formation and structure; we ask which rules are universal and which are language specific? Language (i-language) vs. e-language = the human linguistic capacity, a part of our cognitive endowment, something that all normally developing individuals possess vs. a specific language such as English or Chinese Syntactic theory – investigating the structure of language via the scientific method , that is, looking at data , coming up with generalizations about it, and explaining the generalizations by making falsifiable hypotheses about it; testing the hypotheses with more data Syntacticians aim to explain grammatical phenomena; they want to go above and beyond merely describing them; they NEVER tell native speakers what is the ‘right way’ to speak their language. We shall return to the distinction between prescriptive, descriptive, and explanatory grammar below. Syntax is concerned with discovering and explaining the hierarchical structure of sentences in the human language; We ask what are the rules that underlie sentence formation and structure; which rules are universal and which are language specific? Syntax is thus the study of the internal architecture of language
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2 In this regard, we can say that the grammar we aim to achieve is generative and explanatory . We want to deduce the mechanism by which we can generate new grammatical sentences in a language. It is distinct from being a descriptive grammar which only aims to describe the rules that seem to be operant on the surface, not explain what makes the surface representations grammatical in the language X. It is also distinct, in an even more crucial way, from being a prescriptive grammar, which tells native speakers what is possible or not possible in their language from the stand point of a higher grammatical authority. Ex. “Don’t end your sentences with a preposition!” This is the kind of grammar we check at the door and forget about the existence of when we enter this classroom The knowledge of syntax and syntactic wellformedness of sentences (i.e. whether they are possible or not in our language) is independent of the knowledge of meaning Consider the following:
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2011 for the course LING 322 taught by Professor David during the Spring '09 term at Simon Fraser.

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week1 - Vita Markman Syntax 322 Week 1 Introducing The...

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